Mets owner Steve Cohen speaks to the media before a...

Mets owner Steve Cohen speaks to the media before a game against the Brewers at Citi Field on March 29. Credit: Jim McIsaac

On Steve Cohen’s birthday, a nice gift from his Mets would have been some legitimate hope for a playoff shot.

Well, maybe next year, because Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Marlins at Citi Field was akin to someone burning the cake, never mind a putting a match to the idea of the Mets rallying for a wild card. They managed only four hits — the highlight being a two-run double by Mark Vientos, who later committed a throwing error (after a nifty diving stop) to allow Miami’s go-ahead run in the fifth inning.

“When you give extra outs, extra bases — we haven’t been able to overcome those issues,” manager Carlos Mendoza said.

Cohen turned 68 on Tuesday, the same night the Mets resumed their post-London schedule with a Citi visit from the bottom-feeder Marlins. Over the weekend, on the other side of the pond, Cohen suggested there would be no premature fire sale as he’s “focused on winning games right now.”

But are his Mets? They didn’t look like it Tuesday night. Cohen spent $337 million on this year’s payroll, the most expensive in the majors, and he’d prefer not to chop it up for prospects at the deadline, like the pragmatic owner did last season.

The least these Mets could do is give the hedge-fund titan a better return on his investment this time around. And Cohen’s not asking for all that much. He’s long since backpedaled from the bold three-to-five-year title prediction from 2020, seemingly more content to just qualify for the October tournament at this point.

Amazingly, thanks to MLB’s expanded playoffs and a glut of mediocrity throughout the sport, the Mets still are technically capable of getting there, despite falling to nine games under .500 (28-37) with Tuesday night’s loss and four games out of a wild card (behind seven teams). But they can’t afford many more no-shows like the one against Marlins starter Jesus Luzardo, who was tagged for nine earned runs in his previous start.

 

The Mets already wiped out any margin for error during their first two lousy months, which dropped their long-shot playoff chances to 12.5% (according to FanGraphs) before Tuesday night’s game. But there were some renewed (if flickering) reasons for optimism coming back from London.

At the top of that list was the return of slugging catcher Francisco Alvarez, who had missed the past two months with a sprained left thumb. The last time Alvarez took a swing for the Mets was April 19, at Dodger Stadium, and despite his slow offensive start (.236 BA, .652 OPS), they were 11-5 with him in the lineup. Also, J.D. Martinez didn’t even join the Mets until a week later — his activation delayed by the late March signing — so that’s a pair of power bats finally together in an effort to save the season.

“It’s just a good thing to get everybody back healthy,” Brandon Nimmo said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s always better to have your guys that you’re planning on to be in the lineup and contribute any way they can.”

Ah yes. The plan. That’s changed a bit, too. Two days after the Mets held their May 29 postgame players-only meeting — the one about accountability — three seismic events took place, other than Jorge Lopez being officially DFA’ed.

Brett Baty was demoted to hand over the starting third-base job to Vientos, who is hitting .320 with five homers and a .968 OPS in 23 games. The team jettisoned the woefully-underperforming Omar Narvaez, resulting in the acquisition of catcher Luis Torrens, who proceeded to win the backup job over Tomas Nido.

Perhaps the biggest surprise? The call-up of Jose Iglesias knocking Jeff McNeil out of the everyday lineup — a smart baseball move made more significant by targeting a two-time All-Star, former batting champ and $50 million member of the Mets’ core. Mendoza won’t commit it to being a platoon, and McNeil seems to be more of a backup now — with the manager saying “there’s a good chance” he’d start Wednesday against another Marlins lefty, Braxton Garrett.

Mendoza also mentioned that Edwin Diaz is expected to be back Thursday after spending two weeks on the IL with a shoulder impingement, and if the Mets are to have any chance of pulling this off, they need the ’22 version — not the walking gas can (5.40 ERA, 4 blown saves) from earlier.

As for Kodai Senga, forget him for now. The Mets can’t even provide a timetable for his return, and at this rate, they’ll be lucky if it’s before the July 30 trade deadline.

We saved the schedule for last because it’s tough to talk sensibly about an easy road for a team that’s played as poorly as the Mets. But over their next 34 games, the Mets only have two against a club with a winning record — as luck would have it, that would be the Yankees at Citi (June 25-26) — so there is a potential runway to a rebound.

Last week’s sweep of the Nationals, followed by a nail-biter London split with the Phillies, was encouraging. Tuesday’s birthday bummer was decidedly not — and as we learned a year ago, Cohen’s optimism always comes with an expiration date.

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